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Scientific Discovery Begins with Curiosity

Over the last 100 years, our understanding of the world has evolved tremendously. Much of what we’ve learned has come from scientists who have had questions about the world and the way things work.  At the beginning of the twentieth century, Alfred Wegener questioned whether the continents had once formed a single land mass and then drifted apart, and astronomers wondered if the Milky Way Galaxy was the entire Universe. Today, we know that plate tectonics is a major force that shapes Earth’s surface, and that the Universe stretches far beyond our galaxy.

Here at the Museum 200 scientist pursue the answers to their own questions. Often their research takes them to places as far away as Madagascar and as close to home as Central Park in New York City. With each careful, detailed study, these scientists add to the existing body of knowledge.

You Are Invited!

The Young Naturalist Awards program invites you to explore the natural world around you. You can plan and conduct your own scientific investigation, one that will include questions, predictions, observations, data gathering, analysis, and conclusions. You are not expected to make a new scientific discovery. However, your investigation should provide you with a new understanding about your question. Tell us about your investigation in an essay. Include tables, charts, graphs, artwork, and photographs that support and document your findings. 

Essays can be mailed to the Museum beginning January 1, 2015, and received no later than March 1, 2015. Essays may also be submitted digitally and must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST, March 1, 2015.  Judges will review each essay, and twelve winners, two from each grade, will be chosen. Winners along with a parent or guardian, will be invited on an expense-paid trip to the Museum to attend an awards ceremony, receive cash prizes, and to take behind-the-scenes tours. In addition, their essays will be published on the Museum’s website. For more information regarding the awards and eligibility see Read The Rules. 

Selecting and Planning a Project

Plan your own investigation!

You can plan your own scientific investigation whether you live in an urban, suburban or rural area. Your investigation should center on a question that you have about the natural world or a question you uncover during your initial research or observations. To get some idea of the questions students pursue, read the essays of past winners on this website and learn how they conducted their investigations. The topic you choose should be in one of the following areas: biology, ecology, Earth science, or astronomy. Use The Process of Science to help you plan and conduct your research.


The Process of Science

Make Observations  Go to a natural area--a park, a stream, or a backyard. Take a notebook. Look closely and listen carefully. What do you notice? What sparks your curiosity?

Ask Questions  What questions do you have about what you’ve seen? Can doing research and collecting data answer them? Formulate a specific question that will be the focus of your investigation. It must be a question that can be answered through scientific research.


Do Background Research  Read about your topic to learn more about it and to answer questions you have. Background research can also help guide your investigation. Check out government and academic websites. Consult scientific books and journals. If possible, interview an expert in the field.

State a Hypothesis or Set a Goal  Based on your research and your observations, you may want to state a hypothesis: A testable statement that describes what you think the outcome of the investigation will be. For some field studies you will not have a hypothesis. In that case, state the goal or objective of your investigation.

Plan Procedures to Gather Data  Decide what data you will need to support your hypothesis or to achieve the goal you set. Design a plan for collecting data. You can gather data by making observations, taking measurements, conducting an experiment, or making a model.

Collect, Organize, and Display Data  Collect data in an organized way. Present the data in charts, tables, or graphs so that it can be easily shared and analyzed.

Use Data as Evidence to Evaluate Your Hypothesis or Goal  Once you’ve analyzed your data the results become your evidence. The evidence will allow you to support or reject your hypothesis. Or, it will help you meet the goal or objective of your field study. You should also include possible sources of error, new question that you have, and suggestions for further research.

Gather Feedback and Revise  Prepare a draft of your essay (see Essay Checklist and the YNA Judging Rubric 2015). Ask your teacher, mentor, or a classmate to read the draft. Ask for suggestions on how your essay could be improved. Check grammar and spelling. Revise your essay.


Do I have to go outside to conduct my research?

We want our participants to explore the natural world. If you can relate an indoor experiment to an investigation in the natural world, then that is acceptable. If you have questions regarding this, contact the Young Naturalist Awards Administrator at

How do I conduct background research to learn more about my topic?

Once you have a topic or a good question, do research to learn more about it and to answer many of the questions you have. Consult books, science magazines, and websites. (Be careful to select reputable websites associated with universities, government organizations, and museums. User-generated websites, such as Wikipedia, can be informative, but are not always accurate.) If possible, find an expert in the field that you can interview. Use the information you gather to guide your investigation. See Research Project Overview in the Read the Rules section.

How do I begin my investigation?

Start by making a plan. Think about what you’ve already learned through research and observations. Decide what information you will need, how you will collect the information, and how you will record it. Take photographs to document your procedure. Photographs are a requirement.

You may need materials or equipment to conduct your research. If you are testing water, for example, you will need a water-testing kit. You might also need a thermometer to test the temperature of the water and the air. Field guides can help you identify plants and animals. Prepare all necessary items before visiting your site. See Plan Your Own Investigation.

How do I record data?

Keeping a field journal is a helpful way to record your procedure, observations, and questions. You may also use your journal to make drawings or to record data in charts to help keep your information organized. Photographs of your site or of the specimens you find is another good way of collecting data.

Most importantly, set up controls to insure the data you collect is accurate. If, for example, you are taking daily temperature readings at a pond, make sure you take the temperature readings at the same time each day. Water temperature can fluctuate over the course of a day, so taking temperature readings at the same time will provide you with more consistent and reliable data.

What do I do after I've collected all my data?

The next step is to analyze your findings. Look at your data: your observations, measurements, sketches, photographs, notes, and the information you gathered from outside sources. Use this evidence to evaluate whether or not your hypothesis is supported or rejected or whether the goal or objective you set has been achieved.

Will feedback help?

Sharing your work with others can be very valuable. Your teacher, mentor, or a classmate can point out areas where your essay can be improved. Maybe a section needs to be made clearer? Look over the feedback you receive and use it to revise your essay.

How do I prepare a final report?

Present your findings in a narrative essay. Write about what inspired you and what you learned. Begin by outlining what your essay will include and in what order. Combine the personal story of your investigation with sound facts, detailed observations, and insightful questions. Use drawings and photographs to further the reader’s understanding of your research topic and findings. Photographs are required as they document your research.  Include a bibliography.

Remember to properly cite your sources. For more information, see:

Review the contest rules. Look at the YNA Judging Rubric 2015 below to see how your essay will be evaluated.

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